In McKechnie’s 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers — eight of them full-time — L.A. won five titles, in large part because he was able to extend the prime years of Shaquille O’Neal’s career.
Despite signing a $3 billion U.S. TV deal, the Lakers oddly cheaped out this summer, which gave McKechnie an opportunity to head elsewhere when old friend Jay Triano came calling.
The former Raptors head coach now a special assistant to Colangelo goes back 30 years with McKechnie, to when both men were at Simon Fraser University (McKechnie emigrated to British Columbia from Scotland in 1974).
Triano was just phoning to say hello, but it evolved into a coup for the Raptors.
“Jay called me on an unrelated incident … my contract was up in L.A. so he asked me if I was interested,” McKechnie said.
“I came here and met with (Colangelo) and was very, very impressed by the whole scene. It’s a wonderful place to be and I just see the organization as being very proactive, extremely aggressive in going in the right direction. From a personal standpoint, it was not a lateral move, it was very much an upward move.”
For Triano, getting McKechnie on-board was a no-brainer, if possible.
“He’s a great guy who is respected by players around the league and I think it’s great for our organization,” Triano said.
“When you can have a guy like that it gives credibility. He’s going to put his stamp on things for sure.”
Raptors forward James Johnson says that has already happened.
“He’s one of the biggest reasons why our guys have brought such a great, professional attitude to the team,” Johnson said.
“I feel like just the technology he brings and the brain he brings that we never had before just really shows that we’re going to be professionals.”
5. Toronto Raptors:
If Andrea Bargnani is your best player, you probably suck. The bright side here is that Demar DeRozan took a big step forward last year and should take another this year and Ed Davis should begin to break out as well. Jerryd Bayless should be starting over Jose Calderon, but he probably won’t. The Raptors will still have one game this year when they inexplicably beat the Celtics by like 15 points. This happens every year.
Breakout player: Ed Davis
Toronto – Pretty clearly the choice for the bottom of this division. When Andrea Bargnani is your top scorer, you know there’s a lot of room for improvement. The bottom of the Eastern conference is really bad, and the Raptors may be the worst.
TORONTO RAPTORS – In the mist of a rebuilding phase, the Raptors have a team that seems to be going nowhere and just doesn’t click. They will hope that their Draft pick Jonas Valanciunas can further improve himself while overseas and come to the NBA as quickly as possible, while their biggest loss during the lockout was Sonny Weems who left for Europe and doesn’t appear to be coming back. Other than big man Andrea Bargnani and the athletic shooter in Demar Derozan, Toronto will have to spend another cold, raw winter with a lame basketball team that appears to be going nowhere. Oh and I would like to mention that Toronto is the first North American city to put on 3D ads on their court, video of that will come soon and it’s pretty wild to see. That’s how important basketball is in Toronto, talking about ads…
Things to be optimistic about: Demar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani aren’t bad as the top talent. The bench is full of a good mix of youngsters and veterans who can contribute.
Things to be pessimistic about: Bargnani and DeRozan are probably not going to get better; they’re better served as number 3 options on contenders. Also, the team probably should ante up and resign Reggie Evans, a man who was the teams top rebounder last season and without whom the Raptors have the softest frontcourt in the NBA.
Overall: The Raptors need to blow this thing up and start over around Jonas Valenciunas and whatever nice building block the get from the 2012 draft. For this season, the Raptors don’t look like they’ll be much of a threat.
To top it all off, Colangelo committed a major coup by signing one of NBA’s most sought after coaches in the off season, former Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey. Casey has a reputation as a defensive coach who won and NBA title while working for Dallas last season. As a head coach, he kept an aging Minnesota Timberwolves team lacking in talent respectable until he was unjustly ousted by Wolves GM at the time, Kevin McHale. By his own admission, Casey would certainly agree that he has more talent in Toronto than he ever had in Minnesota. With the hiring of Casey and the quiet yet strong acquisitions, Toronto will look to bounce back from that lack luster season and shock the basketball world. If the past preseason games against the Celtics are a preview of what is come, the Raptors will definitely be a force to reckon with this upcoming season.
The widespread belief is what he will witness this year will be brutal. In the second year of the post-Chris Bosh era, the Raptors are essentially starting anew by doing very little new. The coach has changed, with Dwane Casey and his defensive focus aboard. As for the players, they are pretty much the same crew that delivered a 22-60 record last year.
Instead of chasing a free agent who could do much to alter that, Colangelo signed three players nearing the end of their careers (Jamaal Magloire, Rasual Butler and Anthony Carter) and two 20-somethings with no history of significant NBA success (Aaron Gray and Gary Forbes). Instead of drafting a marquee college player such as Kemba Walker to ignite a tired, beaten-down fan base, Colangelo selected Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas with the No. 5 pick in the June draft. The centre cannot come to the Raptors until next year because of a pre-existing contract.
“Clearly there were players on the board that would have yielded instant gratification, or more potential instant gratification,” Colangelo said. “But this is about a long-term pick, and it clearly is the right long-term pick.”
For Colangelo’s Raptors, this is a major sea change. Bosh was a significant enough piece, in Colangelo’s eyes, to try to build around. He went from one extreme (defensive-minded centre O’Neal) to another (playmaking forward Turkoglu) in an attempt to do so, and he certainly failed in the process. But he felt as if he were only one move away from legitimate contention.
Obviously, the lack of a franchise fulcrum has been the biggest factor in changing that mindset, but it is not the only one. Truly competing for a championship now requires a sturdier foundation, something more than Bosh and parts ever could have been.
The NBA is full of teams with multiple superstars, and there is no shortcut to acquiring those types of players if you reside in the NBA hinterland. You either have to find a megastar in the draft (see: Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant) or acquire enough quality assets (again, usually through the draft) to turn them into a pillar through a trade.
That explains away the talent imbalance on this roster. Of the five most intriguing Raptors players, four (Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas) play up front. Logically, it would be very difficult to give all of those players the minutes they need to develop properly. The 2012 draft, as it figures, is particularly heavy on front-court players, which only complicates matters.
“It’s a stacking principle,” Colangelo said. “You want to have guys that are there at various positions, and even if there is [positional] duplication, you can decide which one fits best and move on and possibly move a piece and convert that into something else.”
THE EVOLUTION OF DEROZAN
DeMar DeRozan averaged 19.9 points per game in 26 games after the all-star break. This was seen as a sign that the Raptors made a good choice with the ninth selection of the 2009 draft.
However, DeRozan still had holes in his game: three-point shooting, ball handling and defence, to name three. DeRozan has expressed comfort with his long-range shot after putting in work on it during the extended off-season; two made three-pointers in the first pre-season game against Boston attested to that.
Still, fans will want to see more before he is anointed a definite part of the future.
Prediction DeRozan will bump up his three-point percentage to a respectable level. His defence will improve, lest Casey bench him. His ball handling will continue to plague him. He will be a Raptor for years to come, but the team will still need an elite playmaker to make a leap to the playoffs in 2012-13.
THE SMALL FORWARD SPOT
The Raptors have three small forwards on the roster: James Johnson, Rasual Butler and Linas Kleiza, who is rehabilitating from knee surgery. None of them, based on their careers, can make compelling cases to start.
Johnson has a lot of defensive upside but has a nightmare of a jumper. Butler can shoot, but not do much else. And Kleiza was awful last year before suffering his injury.
Prediction Johnson will emerge as a favourite of Casey, who will take the lessons he learned coaching an aging Shawn Marion and turn Johnson into a poor man’s version of the former all-star.
Eventual cap space and flexibility is a rough thing to attempt to get behind, much less act cheerful about, but Toronto can at least see the corner to turn around. If GM Bryan Colangelo swallowed his pride and admitted defeat on Andrea Bargnani next summer, shooting the scoring forward a waive under the amnesty clause, Toronto could find itself $30 million under the cap once the rookie contracts are sorted out.
We’re well beyond the risk of sounding fawning regarding Casey, and it’s possible that his strange second place finishes to Vinny Del Negro in both the Chicago and Los Angeles Clippers coaching searches may have trumped up his potential higher than it deserves, but his hiring is akin to a team trading for a top pick from a terrible team that won’t show up until 2012 or 2013. Casey’s a prospect to be stashed away, not unlike Valanciunas or impending cap space, as the Raptors soberly look toward the future.